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Why we think something is going on between the Rockets and the national media

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Why are the Rockets so heavily criticized? Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Let's face it. Houston has an inferiority complex when it comes to the national media's coverage of their sports teams. Fans of the local teams do not like the way national media covers, or doesn't cover, the teams here. While I do agree there can be a lack of respect and attention paid to teams here, let's not act like the local teams have given them much to desire. Save the Astros current run, the Rockets have been abysmal and the Texans have been a joke.

The Astros threw in a scandal to spice things up. All that did was call into question their credibility. They gave everyone a major “eff you” this past season. The Texans are on the cuff of something special, but it took a while to clean up the mess that was left behind. The Rockets were good in the Harden years, but failed to win a title. When he wanted out, things took a turn for the worse. Eventually, they'll bounce back with the building blocks in place.

That's where the national media has been unfair. My really close personal friend, Ken Hoffman (we text all the time), recently wrote about the outlandish take Pardon the Interruption cohost Tony Kornheiser put out about the Rockets. Kornheiser thinks Adam Silver doesn't want Victor Wembanyama in Houston because Tilman Ferttita doesn't know what he's doing. What?!? You mean the man who's built an extremely successful hospitality empire that's made him a billionaire owner of an NBA franchise? One thing that sticks out about Hoffy's article are the quotes from an NBA insider he spoke with. They contradict everything Kornheiser said. (Side Note: Don't call him Hoffy. He prefers Mr. Hoffman, or Ken. Only real friends can call him that.)

Another national media member to get something wrong about the Rockets was ESPN's Brian Windhorst. He added a line in a story about Jabari Smith Jr's development that said head coach Stephen Silas broke down after a game because he's been unable to reach this team. FAKE NEWS! That story was from two years prior and was refuted by Silas himself recently! There was no need to add that in the story. We all know and can see the frustration on Silas' face after every loss. The joy and elation after wins is evident as well. Why sensationalize an already rocky situation?

It even bled over into former Rocket player turned TNT analyst Kenny Smith. He recently blasted the Rockets as “one of the worst teams in professional sports.” I think the NFL's Commanders would like a word with Mr. Smith, so would MLB's Marlins. I could name several others, but you get the point. They aren't the best team in the league. In fact, their record says they're the worst. But to say one of the worst in pro sports seems a bit harsh. Especially considering the run they've been on since the All Star break.

Bottom line is these national media members talk with a whole lot of hot air in their hot takes. They spew whatever venom they want and think it'll get by without being checked. When players like Draymond Green and Brandon Ingram speak highly about this team right after playing them, that says something. Players will talk trash and go out of their way to diss other players in the name of competition. But when they make it a point to heap praise on an up-and-coming team/players, it hits different. Contrary to popular national media belief, this team is on the come up. Let them keep spitting their hot garbage. When they add another supremely talented rookie and some vets to this lineup, I want them to keep that same energy. Make sure you guys keep the receipts. I think we'll be making some returns in the near future.

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The Astros are back in action Friday night against the A's. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

The Astros need to whip up on the Oakland A’s this weekend in California as they did in sweeping four from them last week at Minute Maid Park. That was the start of a homestand which ended up with seven wins in 10 games. That goes down as a successful homestand, especially since it felt like the Astros’ prior winning homestand came while Donald Trump was President (it actually started in late July). Still, 7-3 doesn’t feel like a smashing success with it ending by dropping two of three games to the lowly Los Angeles Angels.

It is not exactly with bated breath that anyone should be waiting on Jose Abreu’s return to the lineup, but it’s coming. It should not be on this road trip. After the three games with the A’s the Astros move up the coast for a big four game set with American League West leading Seattle. The M's start all right-handed pitchers. That is no time to sit Jon Singleton to see if Abreu has managed to pump a few drops of gas into his tank while spending the better part of this month at the Astros’ minor league complex. It’s not as if Singleton has been stellar since Abreu’s departure, but by comparison, he’s been Lou Gehrig-esque. The series with the Mariners isn’t make or break but the Astros are strongly advised to get at least a split. That it should be Framber Valdez starting the opener Monday night doesn’t breed tremendous confidence, coming off his meltdown outing against the Angels. Another start, another opportunity.

The Mariners are at the Nationals this weekend, starting it a mere four and a half games ahead of the Astros. In four of the five other divisions the Astros' 22-28 record would have them at least 10 games off the lead.

One step forward, two steps back

Speaking of washed-up first basemen, Joey Votto should be a future Hall of Famer. The 40-year-old Canadian is trying to make it back to the big leagues via the minor leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays. Votto was an absolutely tremendous player with the Cincinnati Reds. As the Beastie Boys said, “Ch-check it out.” Over Jeff Bagwell’s first ten seasons with the Astros he hit .305 with a .417 on-base percentage and .552 slugging percentage, yielding a phenomenal .970 OPS. Over Votto’s first ten full seasons with the Reds: .313/.429/.540 for an exactly phenomenal .970 OPS. Where am I going with this? Read on!

Votto had phenomenal strike zone and bat control. He turned 30 during the 2013 season. That year Votto had 581 at bats. He popped out to an infielder once the entire season. Alex Bregman turned 30 the third day of this season. Bregman popped out to the shortstop four times in the Angels series. So much for Bregman’s “knob past the ball” epiphany that saw him hit three home runs over two games last week. Going into the weekend Bregman has one hit in his last 23 at bats. His season stats continue to be pitiful: a .209 batting average and .607 OPS. Bregman has only struck out once in the 23 at bats of his latest deep freeze. It’s that so much of his contract is feeble. There is a lot of season left for Bregman to build up to decent numbers, but one-third of the regular season will be complete after the Astros play the Mariners Monday night.

While Bregman’s season to date has basically been one long slump, Jose Altuve is in a funk of his own. Since blasting a homer Monday, Altuve is hitless in 12 at bats. Mini-slumps happen to everybody but Altuve’s woes trace back farther. Over his last 15 games, Altuve is batting .175. He last had more than one hit in a game May 5. He’s also drawn just two walks over those 15 games. It’s tough to ever sit Altuve, but he’s probably playing a little too much. Altuve turned 34 earlier this month. He has started 48 of the Astros 50 games at second base. Mauricio Dubon should be getting a start per week at second (and probably another at third given Bregman’s level of play). Over a full season not playing the field once per week still means 135 starts. Altuve should mix in some more at designated hitter (he has just one DH game so far this season). Wear and tear is a real thing, players don’t grow less susceptible to it as they get to their mid-30s.

King Tuck

On the flip side, Kyle Tucker! So far this season, he’s making himself as much money as Bregman is costing himself. Only Shohei Ohtani (1.069) starts the weekend action with an OPS higher than Tucker’s 1.060. The law of averages dictates that Tucker won’t finish as high as 1.060, but if he does, it would be the greatest full-length season offensive performance in Astros’ history. Jeff Bagwell posted an absurd 1.201 OPS in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign. Yordan Alvarez came in at 1.067 in his 87 games played rookie season of 2019. Lance Berkman’s 2001 was a monster. Enron Field was more hitter-friendly then than Minute Maid Park is now, but Berkman’s numbers were “Oh My Gosh!” spectacular. .331 batting average, 55 doubles (second in franchise history to Craig Biggio's 56 in 1999), 34 homers, .430 on-base percentage, .620 slugging percentage, and 1.051 OPS. And that was just Berkman’s second full season in the majors. Lance finished fifth in National League Most Valuable Player Award voting. Giant-headed Barry Bonds won MVP with his 73 home runs among other sicko stats.

* Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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